Gurpreet Singh: Dalits make history by organizing event for Ambedkar on Parliament Hill

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      Dalits (so-called untouchables) who continue to face caste-based oppression in the world’s so-called largest democracy of India want to educate Canadian politicians about their situation.

      For the very first time, an event is being organized on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in commemoration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar—a towering Indian scholar and undisputed leader of the Dalit emancipation movement.

      For centuries, Dalits have been persecuted under a brutal caste system in India. Ambedkar, who himself was born in the oppressed community, grew up facing discrimination from fellow countrymen from self-proclaimed upper-caste groups.

      Despite these challenges, he studied hard and rose to become the architect of the Indian constitution that guarantees equality and freedom to everyone and hope to marginalized sections of the society.

      The Ottawa event is being held on his death anniversary on December 6. Before he passed away in 1956, he had embraced Buddhism and denounced the Hindu religion that created the caste system.

      The religious conversion he took was itself an act of resistance as Hindu priests remained adamant in denying entry to Dalits into temples and to use water from public wells and ponds. Ambedkar left no stone unturned to win these rights through passive resistance.

      Though he also advocated for the rights of the women and the working class, his contributions were often overlooked by privileged commentators who have always tried to portray him as the defender of Dalit rights alone.

      Statues of B.R. Ambedkar can be found in India, like this one in Lucknow, but this great Indian legal advocate is not nearly as famous in the West.

      The Parliament Hill program is being held under the aegis of the Ambedkar International Social Reform Organization (AISRO) that was formed in response to growing attacks on Dalits under the current right-wing Hindu nationalist government in India.

      The AISRO has been vocal against violence against Dalits and other minority communities, which have increased under the present regime.  

      AISRO media coordinator Ratan Paul told Straight that while Dalits have always faced structural violence in India, the situation has worsened under a government that is determined to turn the country into Hindu theocracy.

      The event has been sponsored by Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Singh Sarai, who is known for his stand on social justice and human rights. He had earlier received a charter of demands from AISRO at a public meeting in Surrey and promised to raise their issues with Indian authorities through proper channels.

      Paul hopes that the Parliament Hill event will open doors for future conversation on human rights issues in India and recognition of the work done by Ambedkar in this part of the world.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. He's also the author of Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson: Revisiting the Murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector and Fighting Hatred With Love: Voices of the Air India Victims' Families. Both were published by Chetna Parkashan.